Sometimes Plan B can put Plan A to shame. Singer/guitarist Adam Levine, guitarist Jesse Carmichael, bass player Mickey Madden and drummer Ryan Dusick would second that emotion, seeing as how their first shot at the big time got them some rave notices, but not much else. Now, their second shot, in the form of neo-soul rock outfit Maroon 5, thanks to 2 songs, "Harder To Breathe" and "This Love", has the LA-based Maroon 5 looking like the Cinderella story for 2005.
Released as a single way back in the summer of 2002, seventeen months later "Harder To Breathe" hit #4 at top 40 radio. Over 500 live shows, including opening stints for John Mayer, Sheryl Crow, Train, and Counting Crows, and now a consistent headline act in its own right, has helped to underscore a list of reasons why Maroon 5's debut CD, Songs About Jane, had already sold more than 3,000,000 records and gotten the guys on the Tonight Show twice, The Today Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Last Call with Carson Daly and the Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn. The next single, "This Love" was #1 at top 40, VH1 and MTV, simultaneously! It was also the first song ever to be certified as a platinum download.
But perhaps we're getting ahead of ourselves. What about Plan A?
Known as Kara's Flowers, Levine, Carmichael and Madden were the toast of their West LA high school (Dusick, who’d known Levine since they were nine and seven, respectively, had already graduated). Here they were, 17 years old and making a CD with legendary producer Rob Cavallo (Green Day, Goo Goo Dolls, Michelle Branch). Life was grand.
This is where the good news ends. Following a disappointing run with their debut, The Fourth World, Kara's Flowers were granted their release from the label. Plan A had gone awry, leaving the quartet to consider their future. "We were like, Okay, what do we do now?" recalls Levine. "So we ran away to college to figure it out." Leaving Dusick and Madden behind to study at UCLA, Levine and Carmichael ran smack dab into Plan B in the dorms at the State University of New York.
"The halls would be blasting Gospel music and people would be listening to stuff that we’d never actually listened to, like Biggie Smalls, Missy Elliot and Jay-Z. The Aaliyah record had come out around then, and we were just blown away. When I think of songwriting, I think of The Beatles, Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, the stuff that I grew up on, but then I was like, 'I want to do this.' Stevie Wonder came into my life at that point," Levine mentions, "and I just found a knack for doing it."
"I started singing differently," he told VH1, "and Jesse started playing keyboards; that's what changed it." When the duo hooked back up with Madden and Dusick in LA they were summarily reinvigorated by adding an R&B, groove-based tint to their explosive rock & roll. With the new musical frame-of-mind came a new name, Maroon 5, and a fifth member: guitarist James Valentine. "James came along right as we were deciding on the name," says Levine. "We clearly weren't Kara's Flowers anymore, with the addition of James and an entirely new approach to music. Also, if you name a band when you're 15, by the time you're 23 you're probably not gonna like it very much."
Fortified with a new attitude, a new sound and a new name, Maroon 5 quickly attracted attention from labels. Octone Records, a new independent label based in New York (Octone is a marketing co-venture partner of J Records/RCA Music Group), signed the group, and in 2001 Maroon 5 entered the studio with producer Matt Wallace (The Replacements, Faith No More, Blues Traveler). "I was all about making a hardcore, straight-up, funk R&B record," Levine remembers. "I have to give the people at Octone credit because they were really trying to push us to do this. Matt Wallace also thought we had so much chemistry as a rock & roll band that it would be a shame to lose that element. We went back and recorded live drums over loops, and wound up making more of a rock record, which I think makes it stand out way better."
The resulting album, Songs About Jane, was released in June 2002. Funky rhythms and classic soul melodies co-habiting with searing guitars and a powerful rock bottom end. On top of it all, Levine's expressive voice belts out tale after tale of an ex-girlfriend. You can probably guess her name.
"Harder To Breathe"” a powerhouse guitar workout, is ironically not a song about Jane. "There was a lot of pressure to write," Levine offers. "I just want to make music when I feel like making music, and when I feel forced it’s kind of frustrating. Granted, I don't have much to complain about, but I thought that I was done with the album. It turned out to be for the best because it pissed me off so much I wrote 'This Love' and 'Harder To Breathe', which are the first two songs on the record."